The barbell Z Press is one of the most challenging and rewarding overhead pressing variations you can do. With enough practice and consistency, you will make serious gains in your upper chest, shoulders, triceps, and abs. Not to mention, you will see serious strength carryover to your other pressing movements as well.
The Z Press ( Zyndrunas press) is primarily a strength and posture exercise but translates well to other activities like weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman. Furthermore, it really ingrains the fundamentals of pressing and ensures that you properly control of your scapula to avoid shoulder injury.
How To Do Barbell Z Press
Set Up Safety Arms
Set Up A Strong Base
Unrack The Bar
Lower The Weight
How Many Sets And Reps For The Z Press
I would generally say that the Z press works best as a strength exercise since it puts your shoulders in a challenging position and gets more out of less weight. The lack of stability does not make it best for hypertrophy purposes. However, here are some general guidelines for how you can program the Z Press regardless of your goals:
- For Strength: Do five sets of five. Rest three to five minutes between sets.
- For Muscle Mass: Do three sets of ten to twelve reps: Rest two to three minutes between sets.
If you are going very heavy, be sure to warm up your entire body first. This lift demands a lot so you want to make sure that your body is ready for any heavy load.
Z Press Tips
If you really want to get the most out of this challenging pressing movement, follow these tips for the best results:
Warm Up Your Lower Body First
You would be surprised by how much mobility it takes to sit with your legs in front of you for extended periods of time. Especially when weight is involved. Take the time to properly stretch your hips so that you can provide a strong and comfortable base for your Z press. Things like a 90-90 stretch or foam roller work great.
The feeling of pressing from a seated position with no back support can be strange. To get the best muscular activation and maximum stability, think about bracing your core downwards. What this means is that imagine you are trying to brace your rib cage and abs into the floor. When you press, do not allow your rib cage or abs to expand or move.
Keep Your Bar Path Straight
Since you deal with no back support, you want to ensure that your bar path is as straight as possible. Any slight deviation can cause you to lean forward or backward.
By far the biggest piece of advice I can give for the Z press is to start off with lighter weight and really get your form down. This is a very challenging lift so it is okay to leave your ego at the door and really focus on mastering form and tempo.
Biggest Z Press Mistakes
With such a technical and challenging lift, they are bound to be some common pitfalls that you will have to work through to perform this exercise safely and effectively. Here are the most common mistakes you should watch out for with the Z press:
Leaning Back Too Much
With the Z press, there will be some leaning back required as you unrack the bar and move your head out of the way to allow the bar to pass. However, you want to limit this as much as possible.
For starters, if you lean back too much, you are no longer engaging the shoulders as much as you would like. The load of the weight also gets supported by your lower back when you lean back too much which can easily lead to a lower back injury if you are not careful.
The easiest way to avoid this is to set up a strong base before you even press. Once you get in a solid position, do your best to stay locked in by keeping your upper back and core engaged.
Bending Your Knees
If you bend your knees, you are essentially just making the exercise easier on your core. Not to mention, you are no longer the added big mobility benefits.
Do your best to keep your legs straight and firmly planted on the ground. If you cannot do this, it may be a sign that you need to work on your lower body mobility.
Not Using Your Core
The lack of back support means that you simply have to use your abs if you want to do this movement properly. For your whole set, you should constantly be thinking about keeping your core tight and engaged.
If you feel your back rounding or feet popping up, it is often a sign that you are not using your core enough to maintain stability. It may be a strength issue, a great exercise to strengthen your core is the barbell rollout.
Z Press Variations
If you do not have access to a barbell or squat rack, there are still plenty of ways you can do the Z press or something similar. Each of these variations has its own unique benefits:
Dumbbell Z Press
The advantage of dumbbells on the Z press is that you do not need safety arms to get the barbell in position. Dumbbells are much easier to snatch up and get in the proper position. If you have limited shoulder mobility, this variation can also be useful as you have much more control over the path of the weight.
Kettlebell Z Press
If the stability challenge of the Z press was not enough for your needs, kettlebells are the perfect solution. Since the weights hang lower than on dumbbells, an added level of instability is introduced.
Unilateral Z Press
You can do the unilateral version with either a kettlebell or a dumbbell. The advantage here is that you level out any muscular imbalances and really focus on engaging one side at a time.
Trap Bar Z Press
If you struggle with wrist or shoulder pain, the trap bar allows you to do the Z press with a neutral grip. The neutral means that your arms stay tucked in closer to your body and keep your shoulders protected.
Z Press Alternatives
If you do not quite have the mobility or strength required for the Z press, there are plenty of alternative muscles that work similar muscles groups as the Z press:
Landmine Shoulder Press
This is similar to a Z press since the kneeled position requires lots of core strength. However, it will not be as challenging as the Z press since your legs can add some needed support. I would recommend doing these one arm at a time for the best results.
Swiss Bar Overhead Press
If you are looking for an overhead press variation that introduces some instability, the swiss bar overhead press is a great option. The neutral grips are also very comfortable on your wrists and shoulders. Since the bar has an unconventional shape, your muscles will need to work hard to balance the bar and press it. You can see great strength carryover to the regular barbell overhead press as well.
Kettlebell Sots Press
The kettlebell Sots press is a great exercise to work your shoulders. The Sots press teaches you how to be explosive while also taking your shoulders through a full range of motion. The instability of the kettlebell, also means that your core and back will get a nice workout as well.
Muscles Used By The Z Press
The instability of the Z press means that way more of your muscles are used than with a regular press. Your back and core are especially heavily targeted by this movement. Here are the major muscles engaged by the Z press:
Your shoulders are the main movers on the Z press. They are the muscle group primarily responsible for moving weight overhead.
Your upper pecs are somewhat engaged during an overhead press. However, since this version has a greater lean back you will get eve more activation than usual.
The triceps are responsible for the extension of the arm. They are primarily responsible for the lockout portion of any pressing movement.
The scapular stabilizers are the muscles that surround the scapula (shoulder blade) and are important for ensuring shoulder health and stability. They ensure that your shoulders stay in position while you press the bar up and when you control the weight on the way down.
Your upper back includes muscles like your traps and rear delts, Much like your stabilizers, they are important for ensuring shoulder stability and weight control.
Your core primarily consists of your abdominals and obliques. Essentially, your core works hard to keep your rib cage and torso rigid so that you have a stable base from which you can press.
Lower Back (Erectors Spinae)
The lower back muscles have to work hard to ensure you do not just bend forward or backward while you are pressing. They contribute heavily to the overall rigidity of your body.
Barbell Z Press Benefits
Here are the main benefits of the Z press. Since this press is hard, you will say carry over to many other lifts and movements:
Better Overhead Strength
Yes, the Z press means that you will lose less weight than with a regular overhead press. However, this just means that you are getting more out of less weight. If you can get stronger in a hard and unstable position like with the Z press, you will be stronger when you get back to regular pressing.
Also, the Z press really ingrains proper form in your mind. Unless you keep your core tight and back engaged, you will fold like a cheap accordion. So when you bring these good form habits back to your regular overhead pressing, your strength will go up as a result.
Better Scapular Control
The process of retracting your scapula and maintaining it rigidly can be a hard pattern for lifters to learn. This exercise really forces you to practice that scapular control that will which carry over to other presses and lead to better shoulder health overall.
The lack of leg drive means that you are really forcing your shoulders to do all the work. Packing on mass in this area will lead to a much larger and wider look overall.
Like with any other lift, you will eventually face periods where you plateau or simply get bored of the standard overhead press. The Z press provides enough variation to keep you engaged or break through plateaus.
Who Should Do The Z Press?
Of course, anyone can do the Z Press but I think that some athletes will benefit more than others from this lift. The main thing with the Z press is that the unstable position means you are challenging your muscles in different ways and addressing some weak points you may have in other lifts.
The downside to this is that lack of stability is not the best if you are really trying to feel a muscle and get the most growth. This is not to say you cannot grow with the Z press, it just means it will not be effective as more stable movements.
I think the group of people that would most benefit from the Z Press are strength athletes. This includes people like strongmen powerlifters and weightlifters. As we have already discussed, the Z press is great for breaking through plateaus thanks to the change in muscular activation.
Furthermore, the required mobility will lend itself well to the demands of explosive movements like the snatch or exercises that require a deep range of motion like the squat.
Functional fitness athletes include people who do CrossFit or other sorts of training that are more versatile and applicable to the real world. Since the Z press targets so many muscles in the body and requires lots of mobility, it would work fairly well in any functional training program.
The Z press is a great exercise that will introduce so much-needed variation and versatility to your overhead press training. The lack of back support means you will be engaging more muscles in your body and more directly placing the load on your shoulders. With enough consistency, the Z press can help single-Handley strengthen your core, upper back, and overall pressing strength.
Find The Best Barbell
After years of testing, we assembled a master list of the best barbells on the market for every home gym owner. Whether you are just starting out or looking to buy your tenth barbell, this guide will have you covered,